New novel: The Shipwreck
Meet author CB Lee, lover of turtles and strange Minecraft mysteries!
Imagine you’re just wandering about the Overworld, minding your own business, when you find a weird clue to a riddle, which leads to a secret puzzle trail – and before you know it you’re on an adventure to discover who made this world and why…
I mean, that would be the business, wouldn’t it?
Well, guess what? This is the setup to The Shipwreck, an awesome new official Minecraft novel in which three mismatched Minecraft players find themselves exploring a mysterious server they find in a soon-to-be-demolished community center.
It’s got curious discoveries, long-held grievances, and a race against time. But it also feels very real, especially since its great central characters – Tank, Emily, and Jake – are so believable.
In fact, it made me wonder if the whole story is drawn from real life, so I asked The Shipwreck’s author, CB Lee. As it turns out, she comes from the very same area in which the book is set, and played on a server with her friends that was just as full of mysteries…
Alex: It’s such a fun idea to have some Minecraft players discovering strange puzzles on a forgotten server.
CB Lee: Thanks! It’s the kind of story I’m most drawn to, like, you think you're just playing the standard game and then you realize it isn’t, that someone has made this world and left clues here. That’s the gift of video games, and it’s something that can entirely happen in Minecraft and that’s what drew me into creating this mystery for these kids to fall into. One of my favorite aspects of the game is the underwater monuments and I was just really inspired by that whole aesthetic. The forgotten server all started with the idea of mermaids that were these players’ first clue they weren’t in a vanilla server, and I created the whole mystery from there.
Alex: How did you first start playing Minecraft?
CB Lee: I started playing with my friends, just hanging out in Survival mode. Some friends were super into exploring and finding everything on the map or getting all the achievements and advancements. Another friend, the first thing she wanted to do was to find a stronghold so we could defeat the Ender Dragon. I was more about making a fun base and getting all the materials to create the vision I wanted. We all had different styles, but the most fun we had was just hanging out and spending time together. We created this little town at the shared base and leave messages or quests for each other when we weren’t logged in at the same time. In the middle of town, we’d have a board for quests that would have riddles or coordinates for weird structures or puzzles for each other to find.
Alex: What good weird things did you find?
CB Lee: I made a mineshaft really early on and built a little house at the top. Then I forgot about it, and one of us made a quest to find this abandoned mineshaft this many blocks away from our town square. When I saw the coordinates I realized, oh! That’s my old place! So I took the quest and found he’d redone it, filled it with water, and booby-trapped it. It was so fun.
Alex: Setting traps for you in your own mine? That’s a bold trick! Did you want The Shipwreck to reflect your personal Minecraft experiences?
CB Lee: A little bit, but I wanted the characters to experience enjoying spending time with people who are different from them. At the start, each of them is very alone and they’re quite adversarial because they’re stuck doing community service together. It’s hard to make friends, and I wanted to show these three really putting themselves out of their comfort zones and making friends in unlikely places.
Alex: The characters and their situation feel very realistic. Why did you want to tell a story like that?
CB Lee: I grew up in East Los Angeles and the kids you meet in the book are very much like the kids I knew. It felt important that these are kids who exist today, kids who feel like they don’t quite fit in, or have more worries than they should. Emily wants to fit in desperately with these friends who are popular at school, so she pretends to be from a nicer neighborhood. Jake’s dad is single and they’ve moved around a ton so Jake’s never really had a place he can call home.
Alex: And Tank’s Vietnamese-American, a little like your background, right?
CB Lee: Yeah, I felt it was really normal to live in an apartment with multiple members of your family: uncles and aunts and grandparents. One of the things Tank struggles with is that he’s only 14 but he’s also worried about all these adult things, like trying to help his mom pay the bills.
It was important for me to show that these kids exist in real life. Everyone thinks there’s a certain model of family that is normal, and if they deviate from it they can feel like they’re not as good as the people they see on TV, or that they don’t have what other people have. I want to show that there are other kids out there like you, and they can totally lead a happy and fulfilling life. It’s about you and what you make of it.
Alex: They’re all so different, but they all love Minecraft. Yet they find that a little difficult to reveal to each other!
CB Lee: If you’re really excited about something and you don’t know someone else is going to share that excitement, it’s scary! The kids are passionate about this game, but they don’t know if others are, too. The first times they play together are funny. Jake’s like, "What are you doing? You’re meant to be traveling over to the shipwreck!" And Emily’s like, "Nope, I’m going down a cave!"
Alex: Who of the three plays Minecraft most like you?
CB Lee: I think I gave them each a little bit of my awkwardness in different ways! I’m probably closest to a combination of Tank and Jake, where I like exploring but only far enough that I have the materials. With my friends the only reason I would go into the Nether would be to mine quartz for this epic build I was making *laughs*. I’m less interested in getting the best armor and tools. It’s fun to hang out with people. A fighter? That’s not really me. The first time I went to the End, I died so many times. I’d pop back through the portal, find my stuff, and everyone else was still fighting and I would just cheer them on with "You got this, guys!" because I would almost immediately die.
Alex: They face some pretty tricky situations, but I love that there aren’t any real baddies. Everyone’s just trying to lead their lives. Well, maybe Shark is actually bad.
CB Lee: *laughs* Everyone’s trying their best. Jake’s impression of his dad is that he’s always chasing after some new project and while he promises Jake that here in this city they’re going to try to be a family together, Jake thinks it’s a promise he won’t keep.
Alex: Jake could’ve been a bit nicer about those delicious-sounding dinners his dad cooked, though!
CB Lee: *laughs* He’s confused! Jake’s been burned before, so he can’t trust that good happy feeling. For him, getting to be in a place where his friends are actually his friends and he can stay here is scary. He’s waiting to find they’re going to move again so there’s no point in accepting that nice things are happening to him.
Alex: Without spoiling things, do you think they stay friends when the summer ends after the end of the book?
CB Lee: Yeah, I think so! They had a lot of difficulties, and at the start, they’re only hanging out because of this community service project. But they learn to be interested in each other as people and enjoy each other’s company and that’s a great basis for friendship. At the end of the book, they have each other and they have Minecraft, and all these new things they’re excited about to do and discover.
Alex: Aw, it’s the feel-good book of the winter! Thanks so much!
The Shipwreck is out on November 3.
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- Alex Wiltshire